Navigating Tough Family Dynamics Over the Holidays

If you start having cold sweats every time you hear the phrase “Holiday Season”, you’re not alone. Holidays can be stressful for a variety of reasons but the ones that I hear most often usually have to do with tough family dynamics.

As you prepare to head home to reunite with family this month, keep these easy tips in mind to alleviate any stress you may have and create an enjoyable holiday experience.

  1. Understand the “why” - It doesn’t matter if you 22 or 102, when you get around family it is easy to slip back into childhood roles. Maybe you’re the baby of the family and even though you’re a well-adjusted adult who reads therapy blogs to improve your inner still feel like the baby as soon as you step through those doors.

    Instead of letting yourself fall back into that role, take this opportunity to observe how much you’ve grown and choose to react differently. The more you choose a different response the more you’ll help your whole family dynamic evolve.

  2. Differentiate - Fusion is what happens when you are so connected with another individual, or group of individuals, that you lose your own individuality. This can oftentimes happen with family members even after you’ve matured and individuated outside the home.

    When you base your sense of self on the approval of others, any differing opinion can feel like a threat to your wellbeing. If you find yourself slipping back into this dynamic, make a conscious decision to differentiate and remind yourself that your self worth is not tied to other people’s opinions, even loved ones.

  3. Set Boundaries - I’m sure I must sound like a broken record when it comes to setting boundaries - I wrote a 2 part blog series on the subject for goodness’ sake (if you haven’t read it yet you can find it here). However, I truly believe that setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is key to a healthier overall life.

    As you prepare for upcoming family time take a few moments to establish what your boundaries will be. This includes knowing how much family time you can handle, what topics you are comfortable discussing, and even physical boundaries (remember, you don’t “owe” anyone a hug just because you haven’t seen them in a while).

  4. Enjoy What You Can - Just because you may not love spending time with your family it does not mean that you are not a great family member. Allow yourself to dislike any aspect of the Holiday season without judging yourself for it. But, on those same lines, choose to enjoy what you can. Maybe the only redeeming part of family get-togethers is the great food that usually accompanies them - savor every bite and enjoy everything you can! 

Sometimes family dynamics can be so deeply rooted in pain that a few simple tips don’t even begin to scratch the surface. A serious aversion to family encounters can oftentimes serve as a window into deeply rooted childhood or family trauma. If you find yourself experiencing serious anxiety about the upcoming Holiday season, please email me at or call my office at (310) 614-0323 in order to set up a time to talk.